North Carolina Journal of International Law

"Connecting North Carolina to the World of International Law"

Trump’s Wall: Making America Great Again or Leading Animals to Extinction?

By: Maryjeanne Marrero

Mexican and American citizens are not the only ones concerned with President Trump’s decision to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico; animal conservationists and environmentalists are too.  In late January, Trump announced that he would sign an executive order to commence the construction of the Mexican wall.[1] Although this stirred a lot of public debate, few recognized the ramifications such a decision could have on the environment and its endangered species.

Movement is important to an animal’s survival and the continuation of its species.[2]  When an animal in the wild needs to recolonize in a different location, find water when the area it inhabits is suffering from a drought, or migrate to a different climate to reproduce and live, it also requires the ability to move and possibly travel hundreds of miles.[3] However, the potential order would prohibit this movement along 1,989 miles of the Mexican border.[4] Additionally, the wall would result in the destruction of habitats critical to these species’ survival.

It is estimated that 111 endangered species will suffer as a result of this project.[5] Among these are the jaguar, the gray wolf, the manatee, the sea turtle, and the wild eagle, just to name a few.[6] Inquisitive minds may wonder: how can a wall run an animal to extinction? To illustrate this, consider the jaguar. The last remaining jaguar in the United States, also known as “El Jefe”, roams New Mexico and Arizona in a 770,000-acre habitat designated as critical by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.[7] His only chance of survival and of reproducing would be to travel south to find a mate or for a female to travel north, something that will be impossible with the imposition of a wall.[8] Furthermore, having the jaguar outside of the U.S. will make him more difficult to track. A wall extending partially into the water would also affect sea animals such as the manatee that need to swim to shallow water to feed and live.[9] The last mentioned, but definitely not the last animal that will affected, is the American Bald Eagle whose range extends to northern Mexico and whose nests and habitat will be disturbed and destroyed as a result of the construction.[10]

 

 

 

 

 

Besides its environmental and immigration ramifications, Trump’s plan also raises serious international and national law concerns. The United States and Mexico are both parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)[11] and, more specifically, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Life and Flaura (CITES), internationally binding treaties which seek to promote and sustain biological diversity and protect endangered species in the world.[12] The jaguar and the manatee are both listed as endangered on CITES; therefore, building the wall would affect these animals and raise concerns about these countries’ commitments to the treaties.[13]

In addition to possible violations of international law, the construction could also violate Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA requires construction projects “permitted, funded, or licensed by any federal agency” to be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for an assessment of the risks the project would pose to endangered species in the area. The act also requires that any such action undertaken should be conducted “in such a way as to conserve species” and to “ensure that any activity they fund, authorize, or carry out will not jeopardize the survival of a threatened or endangered species.” [14] We already know this project will affect 111 endangered species, thanks to the USFWS’s assessment.[15]

Is there any hope of survival for these species? Given the president’s statements regarding the executive order, the chances are slim.

 

[1] Jim Acosta, Trump to direct federal resources toward building a border wall on Wednesday, CNN (Jan. 25, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/24/politics/donald-trump-immigration-refugees/ [https://perma.cc/S2BB-KZ5B].

[2] Sarah v. Shweig, Trump’s Wall Would be Hell For Animals, Too, The Dodo (Sept. 27, 2016), para. 5, https://www.thedodo.com/trump-wall-animals-2019266983.html [https://perma.cc/235L-68GQ].

[3] Id. para. 5-9.

[4] Id. para. 8.

[5]  Wes Siler, Trump’s Wall Threatens 111 Endangered Species, Outside (May 3, 2016), https://www.outsideonline.com/2075761/trumps-wall-threatens-111-endangered-species [https://perma.cc/7ZSY-JUUN].

[6] Id. paras. 4-15.

[7] Id. para. 4.

[8] Id. para. 6.

[9] Id. para. 10.

[10] Id. para. 14.

[11] Convention on Biological Diversity [don’t know how to cite]

[12] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087, T.I.A.S. No. 8249, 993 U.N.T.S. 243 [hereinafter CITES].

[13] Id.

[14] Siler, supra note v, para. 1.

[15] Id.

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